Agreement to Overhaul New Mexico’s Juvenile Justice System

February 17, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, February 17, 2006

CONTACT: Peter Simonson, Executive Director,
ACLU of New Mexico,
505-266-5915
or (cell) 505-620-0775
Daniel Yohalem, ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney,
983-9433

Albuquerque – Civil rights groups have agreed to hold off on a major class action lawsuit against New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department in return for promises of major reform in the juvenile justice system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the Youth Law Center (San Francisco) signed a settlement agreement with CYFD last Wednesday that requires sweeping improvements in security, mental health programming, and rehabilitation services in juvenile detention facilities across the state. It also mandates the closure of the New Mexico Boy’s School in Springer. “The ACLU had two key aims in this litigation,” said ACLU executive director Peter Simonson. “Protect the safety of children in CYFD’s facilities and make sure that youthful offenders in our state get a fair shot at putting their lives back on a positive track. We think this agreement has the potential to transform our juvenile detention facilities from warehouses of problem kids to centers of genuine rehabilitation.” ACLU cooperating attorney Daniel Yohalem said, “While the threat of the ACLU’s litigation was the spur to action, CYFD Secretary Mary Dale Bolson and her team have shown great leadership and responsibility in agreeing to redraw the future for New Mexico’s juveniles. If CYFD faithfully implements the ground breaking plan of action contained in the Agreement, fewer children will need to be in placed in custody because new community-based services will be available. Rehabilitation and safety will become much more available to those children who are placed in custody.” Highlights of the 36-page settlement agreement include: Transfer of all 107 youth currently housed at Springer to other facilities around the state; Improved security in all CYFD facilities, including the installation of security cameras, increased ratios of staff to youth in all living units, and elimination of the practice of isolating youth from programs and general population as the means for ensuring safety; Development of comprehensive behavioral health screening and treatment programs headed by separate directors for facility-based and community-based behavioral health services and adequately staffed by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals; Requirements that female youth be granted comparable access to services and programs as male youth; Creation of classification and placement procedures to ensure that youth are located in the most appropriate settings in CFYD facilities. Creation of an Office of Quality Assurance that will independently monitor compliance with CYFD policies and investigate all serious internal grievances; The settlement will affect over five hundred youth that are now on parole or housed in juvenile facilities run by CYFD. Yohalem described the settlement agreement as “comprehensive and innovative.” “In many ways, what this agreement does is break open the ‘closed’ corrections approach and put decision making in the hands of mental health and corrections professionals rather than in the hands of jailers,” Yohalem said. “From now on CYFD will try to place kids in facilities that allow them to keep in touch with their families and communities. And they will have to provide behavioral health services and other programming in the least restrictive setting possible.” In addition to Yohalem, ACLU attorneys included Peter Cubra, Phil Davis, Larry Kronen, and Lee Hunt. Alice Bussiere represented the Youth Law Center. “Even though we settled the lawsuit, the ACLU’s job is just beginning,” Yohalem said. “For the next four years, we’ll be monitoring CYFD’s progress very carefully to make sure that all the reforms are fully implemented.”